Don't let your pet be the victim of a quick 'fix'

Many pet owners who try to neuter their dogs or cats on the cheap -- without the help of a veterinarian -- soon find out they've made a costly decision.

Cox family and pet
Bill and Nancy Cox adopted Kitty Cat, a 12-year-old German shepherd, after the dog's former owner forfeited the animal that became dangerously ill when an illicit castration went awry. (Clint Austin /

Many pet owners who try to neuter their dogs or cats on the cheap -- without the help of a veterinarian -- soon find out they've made a costly decision.

Case in point: Meet Michael Scinocca and Elizabeth Sally Liabraaten of Duluth. About a year ago, they took Hoss, their 2-year-old Labrador retriever, to a local acquaintance and operator of a hobby farm who offered to fix their dog.

A criminal complaint states that the botched procedure left Hoss bleeding and in shock. His worried owners sought follow-up care that same day at Affiliated Emergency Veterinary Service, and the bill exceeded $2,100, according to court documents.

"They probably paid five to six times what the cost of getting it done professionally would have been," said Dr. Amanda Bruce, an attending veterinarian.

Unfortunately, Hoss isn't the only pet victimized by an in-home castration to come to the attention of local authorities recently.


Animal Allies reports that twice in the past six months it has received seriously ill animals as a result of an unprofessional castration. The cases involved a 12-year-old German shepherd with the unlikely name of Kitty Cat, and a tabby cat named Angelo.

Jim Filby Williams, Animal Allies executive director, says the recent local spate of home castrations are disconcerting. "It's not like the owners of these animals in any way are cruel," he said. "Their intentions are generally good, and in many cases they are wracked with guilt."

Williams said that in many cases, he believes confusion arises from the fact that it is legal for owners of farm livestock to castrate their own animals.

But Dr. John King, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine, said that when it comes to cats and dogs, only licensed veterinarians are legally authorized to perform castrations.

"The standard of care for companion animals is different than the standard for food animals," he explained.

David Dale Hanson, 50, of Duluth, who was convicted of practicing veterinary medicine without a license for operating on Hoss, said he was unaware that it was illegal to castrate cats and dogs until he was prosecuted in April.

Hanson explained that he has spent his life working with livestock -- including pigs, goats, horses and cattle -- and has castrated many animals. Likewise, he has performed the procedure on his own dogs, but this was the first time he had helped someone else with a dog that wasn't his own.

"I'll never do it again," said Hanson, who ended up with $735 in fines, a year of probation and thousands of dollars in legal expenses.


Hanson said it was never his intention to pose as a veterinarian and noted that he received no pay for castrating Scinocca and Liabraaten's dog and cat, the latter of which suffered no complications.

"I did it as a friend for these people -- not to make any money," he said.

Hanson also believes any complications involving Hoss were blown out of proportion. He said he'd feel differently if his actions had been reckless or purposefully cruel.

"I will not stand for animal abuse, and if someone was guilty of it, I would turn them in in a heartbeat," he said.

But Dr. Roger Pitt, a veterinarian who volunteers at the Duluth animal shelter, said that regardless of intentions, castrating a dog or a cat without proper anesthesia or sedation is plain cruel.

"If someone were on the other end of that, they'd think twice about it," he said.

King said veterinarians provide post-operative pain management for dogs and cats in the wake of neutering, and they also take steps to minimize the risks of infections.

"When something like this is done in a garage, it is not a sterile procedure," he said.


Dr. Mary Wictor, the veterinarian who cared for Kitty Cat, said the German shepherd was badly infected when his owner finally sought care for the animal.

"If left untreated, there's no question in my mind that he would have died," she said. "One of his testicles was hanging outside of his body, and you could smell dead tissue rotting the moment he walked in."

Wictor said pus from his wound had matted the fur on the inside of his legs and had to be shaved off

Williams said Kitty Cat's owner was forced to give up ownership of the dog because he was unable to bear the cost of the emergency care the animal required.

But Kitty Cat found a new home, thanks to Nancy and Bill Cox of Midway Township. The Coxes went to visit Animal Allies a little more than a month after Bill had undergone back surgery. The couple was taken with Kitty Cat's sad story, as well as his mellow demeanor.

"When we went to visit, he was so quiet. All that moved was his eyes," recalled Nancy Cox. "I told myself not to look in his eyes, because the eyes get me every time."

Since becoming part of the Cox family, Kitty Cat's health has returned and his weight has climbed from 67 to 85 pounds.

Nancy believes both dog and master have helped one another convalesce.


"He [Bill] and Kitty Cat really recuperated together," she said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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